From The Masters Of Kabbalah and Chumash (5 Books of
13th century - "RambaN" - Rabbi Moshe ben
14th century - "Bachya" - Rabbi Bachya ben
16th century - "Alsheich" - Rabbi Moshe
Alshech of Tsfat
17th century - "Shelah" - Rabbi Yeshaiya
18th century - "Ohr HaChayim" - Rabbi Chaim
"If a bird's nest chances to be before you
In the Midrash of Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah [an early Kabbalah text]
there is an interpretation with respect to releasing a mother bird when
taking its nest, which states that there is a secret in this commandment.
"Rabbi Rechimaie said, What is the meaning of that which is written,
You shall in any wise let the dam go [verse 7] with the honor of that
'understanding' [here used in a Kabalistic sense] which is termed 'the
mother of the world', as it is written, Yes 'im' (if) you call
for understanding. [Proverbs 2:3. The Sefer Habahir obviously intimates
that the word be read eim (mother) thus suggesting: "the mother
[of the world] is called 'understanding'"]. And what is the meaning
of the phrase, and the young, take to you? [verse 7]. Said Rabbi Rechimaie,
It means those young that she raised. And what are they? They are the
seven days of [the Festival of] Tabernacles, and the laws of the seven
days of the week, etc." Thus this commandment alludes to a great
matter, and therefore the reward for the observance thereof is abundant,
[as it is said], that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong
your days. [verse 7].
It shall be that the firstborn which she shall bear shall
succeed to the name of his dead brother." [25:6]
The plain meaning of the verse is the kabbalistic approach. The word
shem in this verse does not literally mean "name", i.e.,
that the child will bear the name of the deceased brother, rather the
Torah speaks of the soul of the new infant which will replace that of
the departed brother. The words "so that his name will not be blotted
out from the Jewish people" mean that if the deceased would not have
a replacement on earth his name would die out. When the Talmud in Yevamot
24 understands the words "the firstborn which she shall bear"
to mean that the reference is to the firstborn son of the mother of these
brothers, this is not the plain meaning of the verse. The sages only use
this sequence as implying that the oldest surviving brother is first in
line to "marry" (levirate marriage) the widow of the deceased
brother. This is the reason the word bechor (firstborn) appears
in our verse.
The institution of the levirate marriage is of great value to the soul
of the departed. It is a known fact that a soul derives added enjoyment
when it is allowed to re-incarnate as a member of the family it had once
belonged to, seeing it already feels that it belongs. This is why the
Torah writes in its introduction of this subject: "when brothers
dwell together" (verse 4). Our sages (Yevamot 17) interpret these
words as meaning that the rule of the levirate marriage applies only if
both brothers lived on earth at one and the same time, however, briefly.
If the youngest brother had been born after the oldest had died (or any
other brother had died) then this mystical link does not exist between
these brothers and the legislation does not apply to them.
The underlying reason for chalitzah, i.e., the removal of the
shoe of the surviving brother who refuses to perform the levirate marriage
with his sister-in-law, the widow of his brother, is that his refusal
is considered an act of cruelty towards the soul of his deceased brother.
The removal of his shoe is a symbolic act signifying severance of reciprocal
feelings of brotherliness. The very expression chalitshah, is similar
to Hoseah 5:6: "the Lord withdrew from them" (the Israelites
who vainly tried to mollify Him with their sacrifices) seeing they had
betrayed the Lord. Also the expression na'alo normally translated
as "his shoe" has a dual meaning, is the same as the word na'al,
"locked out," as in "locked the door", The surviving
brother had "locked out" the soul of his deceased brother.
The concept of transmigration of souls is an ancient tradition having
its root already at the time of Moses. In Sefer Habahir #195 you find
this expressed, "why do we encounter the apparent paradox of the
righteous experiencing a life of difficulties whereas the wicked appear
to enjoy a life of ease? The reason is that the person whom we respect
as a righteous individual was a wicked individual in his youth, and is
only now being punished for this."
But do we punish a person for what he did in a period of his life when
he was still immature? Did not Rabbi Simon say that the heavenly tribunal
does not punish anyone under the age of 20? To this Rabbi (Nechuniah?)
replied that he had not meant immaturity in his present life on earth,
but sins committed when the soul of this individual now leading a blameless
life had been in another body on a previous occasion.
"Do not take interest from your brother...although you may take
interest from an outsider...." [23:20-21]
The deeper reason that imposition of interest charges when dealing with
a gentile are permitted or even mandatory, whereas they are forbidden
in dealing with fellow Jews, lies in the different life philosophies.
The gentile believes in hashgacha kellalit, i.e. mazal
and predetermination, limiting the Creator's options by this very belief.
The Jew believes in a totally free Creator, in hashgacha peratit,
personal Divine Providence as demonstrated by the events at the Exodus
and the belief in creation ex nihilo. We believe-and it is a cornerstone
of our faith-that G-d may greatly enrich the poor or impoverish the rich
The imposition of fixed interest charges make a person feel that his
blessings, i.e. his economic wealth, will follow a measurable predetermined
path. Such a person will tend to lose his faith in the freedom of the
Creator to do His will, he will not feel grateful to the Creator for his
success, but ascribe it to his own calculations. For a Jew there is hardly
anything that can conflict more with his basic faith. Therefore the Torah
forbids the charging of interest or the payment of interest between Jews.
It is due to such considerations that we find what appear at first glance
greatly exaggerated condemnations by our sages of people who loan with
interest. They go so far as to stigmatize a Jew who lends to a fellow
Jew with interest as someone who cannot truly refer to the G-d of Israel
as his G-d, seeing that he denies such a central platform of Jewish faith.
This is because of the juxtaposition of Leviticus 25, 37, "Do not
give him your money against interest," and "I am the Lord
your G-d who took you out of Egypt."
In other words, anyone who is aware of the nature of G-d as demonstrated
during the Exodus, cannot base his dealings with Jews on interest charges.
"If a man will have a stubborn and rebellious son, who does not
hearken to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother, and they
discipline him, but he does not hearken to them." (Deut. 21:18)
If we do not properly observe the commandment: "Do not allow any
of your enemies to survive," (Deut. 20:16) then Israel the first
born son may turn out to become a "wayward and rebellious son".
Raising a son who turns out to be wayward and defiant is the result of
our not having waged the war against the evil urge with all our might.
The Zohar describes this passage in approximately the following way:
Upon being given this passage of the Torah, Moses asked G-d how a Jewish
father and mother could be expected to take their own son to the Supreme
Court in order to have him executed? This whole passage should be deleted
from the Torah! G-d explained to him that it was included to enable us
to receive a reward for studying it, though it would always remain in
the realm of hypotheses only.
At that time G-d called upon Yofi-e-l, the "prince" of Torah,
who asked Moses to allow him to explain the meaning of the passage. He
explained that the word "man" at the beginning of the verse,
"If a man has
" refers to G-d Himself, who is known to
us as a "man of war". (see Ex. 15:3) The word "son"
in our verse refers to the people of Israel, G-d's firstborn son. The
words stubborn and rebellious are an allusion to the verse, "Israel
has balked like a stubborn cow". (Hosea 4:16)
The words "...he does not hearken to the voice of his father and
the voice of his mother..." refer to G-d, the father, and the Community
of Israel, the mother, respectively. Such concepts are alluded to by Solomon
in the verse, "Do not abandon the teachings of your mother".
(Proverbs 1:8) The words, "they discipline him" are reminiscent
of: "G-d warned Israel and Judah through all His prophets and seers:
'Turn back from your wicked ways...'" (Kings II 17:13) The words
and did not listen to them" are parallel to the
words "...and did not listen to them" in the same verse in Kings
The Torah continues:
His father and mother will seize him and bring him out to the elders
of his city at the public place of his community, etc. (Deut. 21:19)
We must ask ourselves: Why did the Torah not write "their city"
instead of "his city?" Why did the Torah not write "their
community" instead of "his community"? The subjects of
his city and his community are the city of G-d and the community of Community
of Israel respectively. The Torah alludes to the highest Tribunal in the
Celestial Regions whence supervision of man's activities on earth is exercised
Immediately after Moses had heard all this, he understood that all the
exiles the Jewish people would have to suffer in the course of their history
can be traced back to the original sin committed by Adam.
"And they shall fine him one hundred shekalim." [22:19]
This is an allusion to the one hundred benedictions each one of us is
meant to recite every day as explained in Menachot 43, based on Deut.
10:12: "and now what, [mah] does the Lord G-d ask of you, etc."
The Talmud interpreted the word mah as equivalent to meah
(hundred), i.e. G-d asks that we recite one hundred benedictions. That
verse spoke about a penitent as we know from Breshit Rabbah 21 that the
word veatah or atah always refers to a penitent sinner.
"and the elders shall give (these 100 benedictions) to
the Father of the virgin-bride, i.e. to G-d, etc., because he (the
Israelite) has slandered the virgin-bride of Israel." This
is a reference to the shechinah, the Divine Presence, which includes
all of Israel, the tenth emanation [popularly known as keter. Ed.]
or virtue, called the oral Torah, a concept familiar to students of the
"and she shall be his wife, and he must not divorce her as long
as he lives."
Although the commandment to study Torah is normally understood to involve
setting aside certain parts of the day and night for study, a person who
has rejected Torah study previously and who has thereby slighted the Torah
must henceforth occupy himself with honoring the Torah all day and all
night, i.e. "he cannot send her away as long as he lives."
Vayikra Rabba 25:1 states that if a person was in the habit of studying
Torah for an hour daily before committing a sin, then part of his rehabilitation
is to study two hours daily. This is applicable to people whose sins did
not consist of insulting the Torah. In order to make up for the insult
to Torah which the person in our paragraph is guilty of he has to henceforth
devote himself exclusively to Torah.
22:20-21 "But if the matter was true, etc." If it turns
out that the Torah which this person studied and which he examined and
found defective, was taught by heretics, such as the Torah taught by Tzadok
and Bayssus, such Torah does not give man strength but exerts a negative
influence on him. G-d commands to stone such a "Torah" to death
until it is completely dead, as per our verse. Whereas the teachers of
this kind of Torah employed words spoken by G-d, i.e. the text of the
Torah, the intention of the teacher teaching it disqualifies it. We have
been taught in Gittin 48 that if a heretic painstakingly writes an entire
Torah scroll it must be burned forthwith, as he did something despicable,
etc. When the Torah concludes our paragraph with the words: "you
shall wipe out evil from your midst," it refers to someone who
deliberately distorts the meaning of the Torah.
22:22 "If a man be found having intercourse with a woman married
to someone else, etc." The verse is best understood with reference
to Sanhedrin 59 that if a Gentile engages in Torah study he is guilty
of the death penalty. The Torah is already betrothed to her husband the
Israelite, she is his bride.
"Both of them shall die, etc." both the Gentile studying
the Torah and the "Torah" itself. This means that such "Torah"
instead of spreading its spiritual light will darken the horizon of the
Gentile who studies it. It will not be perceived as possessing life-giving
powers as when it is studied by an Israelite. Torah, which according to
Proverbs 4:22 is a source of life to those who encounter it, will not
prove to be a source of life to pagans who study it but the reverse.
Adapted from the 13th century classic by the illustrious scholar, philosopher
and defender of the faith, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman-known as 'RAMBAN' or
'Nachmanides', a master kabbalist in his own right and a major link in
the transmission of Jewish mysticism-based on the excellent annotated
English translation, Nachmanides on the Torah, by Rabbi Dr. Charles B.
Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of The
Torah Commentary of Rabbeinu Bachya, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu
Munk. Rabbi Bachya ben Asher [1255-1340] of Saragosa, Spain, was the outstanding
pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (the "Rashba"), a main disciple
of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (the "Ramban"). Several books have
been written about the Kabballah-based portions of R. Bachya's commentary.
Adapted from Torat Moshe - the 16th commentary of Rabbi Moshe Alshech,
the "Preacher of Zefat" on the Torah, as translated and condensed
in the English version of Eliyahu Munk)
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz was born in Prague around the year 1565. He served
as Rabbi of Cracow and other congregations before he was appointed as
the Rabbi of the community of Frankfurt on Main in the year 1610. In 1916,
Rabbi Horowitz moved to Prague where he became the Chief Rabbi of the
city. He moved to Eretz Yisrael about 1621. He was rabbi in Jerusalem
and in Tiberias, where he died in or about 1630. In addition to his magnus
opus, Shenei Luchot HaBrit, he also compiled an edition of the prayer-book
with a comprehensive commentary. Many of his innovations, including his
formulation of the Kol Nidrei prayer, have become part and parcel of the
Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim:
the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated
by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco,
on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of
Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was
on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker,
hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only
to his Torah commentary.